By Jamie Vollmer
Rolling hills, grasses blowing in the breeze and herds of elk roaming the countryside – this picturesque image of the American West can be found right here in Missouri. Heartland Wildlife Ranches (HWR) is a full-service guest lodge and ranch located just two hours north of Columbia, Mo., in Ethel. The ranch boasts numerous activities, comforting culinary treats and a beautiful lodge perfect for a romantic weekend, hunting trip or corporate event.
For founders Jay and Kathy Brasher, HWR is actually an amazing vacation souvenir. Fifteen years ago they stumbled upon the area while vacationing with their family. The rolling hills and nearby farm offering elk for sale not only caught their eye, but nestled its way into their hearts. The Brashers bought the elk farm along with some additional land as a place to bring their family and friends. However, the excitement for the location and desire to share it with more visitors led the couple to open the ranch up to the public.
Today, a 20,000-square-foot lodge sits on the site welcoming guests to daytime recreational activities, an evening meal or a peaceful night’s sleep. The lodge manager, Kim Souther, is excited to work with event planners to shape HWR’s offerings to meet each event’s needs.
“I take each event on an individual basis to work out an event specialized for our client’s needs,” states Souther.
Dianne Western, director of marketing, public relations and physician outreach for Northeast Regional Medical Center in Kirksville, can attest to this. She planned an excursion for the Greater Missouri Women’s Leadership Challenge in September 2008. The group of 30 comprised top female business leaders from companies such as Monsanto, Boeing and Citi Bank. The group enjoyed lunch, a brief history on the development of the ranch and a lesson on tracking wildlife.
“The lodge is just incredible, the staff is five star and the food was wonderful,” comments Western. “It is truly a place you could ‘get a way from it all’ and take in the tranquil beauty of the countryside.”
Food is a draw for many guests of HWR. Executive Chef Tom Ecklund is a master at crafting quality Midwestern cuisine, comfort food for many, in an impeccable, upscale manner. Everything that comes from the HWR kitchen is fresh and house-made including pastries, breads, desserts and salad dressings. The ranch even roasts and smokes its own meats.
To ensure every overnight guest has a fond memory of food at HWR, the lodge makes sure no one is ever hungry, even when they leave the ranch. While staying at HWR, guests are not only treated to a delicious homemade breakfast, but they also have access to homemade bakery goods, snacks, juice, yogurt, plenty of sandwich ingredients and last night’s leftovers throughout the day. At the end of a stay, each guest leaves with a homemade chocolate and butterscotch chip cookie in hand.
The culinary craftsmanship of HWR has led the ranch to open up its dining room on Friday and Saturday nights as a restaurant. The room seats 50 and is available for private events. HWR can expand its guest count options by moving events outdoors with tents to accommodate larger parties. In addition, its catering services are available off-site.
On the Hunt
HWR has established a strong reputation in the hunting industry. Guests can hunt not only the elk on the property, but also deer, turkey, red stag and exotic animals.
“When hunters see the quality animals and the large trophies we have to offer they are very excited to book a hunt at HWR,” said Souther. “All our hunts are one-on-one hunts with professional hunting guides. Through extensive animal and land management we are able to produce quality animals, some of the best in North America.”
Recreation on the Ranch
In addition to hunting, the ranch offers numerous recreation options to fit the needs of almost any guest or group. For those seeking adventure in the great outdoors, the ranch offers horseback riding, wagon tours of the ranch grounds and fishing.
Horses and ranches naturally go hand-in-hand. HWR trail rides put you in the hands of a seasoned professional, Shawn Butler. As a cattle ranch owner and local 4-H leader, Butler is an experienced rider ready to take groups and individuals out to explore the beauty of HWR. In spring 2009, Butler will play an integral role in the HWR Cowboy Adventure Week created for guests pining to live out their Wild West dreams.
If something indoors is more the style of your event, HWR has a number of enticing activities. For guests seeking a glimpse into the gourmet styling of the HWR executive chef, cooking classes can be arranged. These two-hour classes feature some of the ranch’s signature dishes. After learning hands-on how to prepare sweet and savory dishes, guests are treated to a meal from their class work.
Wine tasting events can also be arranged at HWR. Featuring a selection of Missouri wines from local wineries, these tastings can be a remarkable evening or an overnight event. If creativity and crafts are more a guest’s style, the ranch can arrange a scrapbooking or card making class. For those seeking the ultimate relaxation, HWR is proud to now offer spa services such as manicures, pedicures and massages.
While the ranch is an idyllic spot, guests do have reason to step off the grounds and into the local community. HWR is happy to arrange 18 holes at a local course or an afternoon boat ride at one of the many local lakes. In addition, there are numerous Amish shops in the area and plenty of gorgeous scenery to admire.
Booking an Event
HWR is a wonderful option for numerous types of events including family reunions, corporate retreats, board meetings, rehearsal dinners and weddings. The lodge features 16 guest rooms, each with a private bath. Busy season extends from the first weekend in September through Christmas. When planning an event, HWR has some recommendations on how far in advance to make the call.
“Most of our bookings are received several months to a year in advance; however, guests should always check our schedule,” said Souther. “We can usually fit them in.”
Heartland Wildlife Ranch is a growing business full of exciting options for event planners. Its picturesque setting and dedication to offering a wide range of activities makes it worth a look from planners. MM&E
(Jamie Vollmer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.)
For more information:
Heartland Wildlife Ranches
18503 State Hwy. V V
Ethel, MO 63539
(888) 590-HUNT • (660) 486-3215
At a Glance
Type of Facility:
Hotel, Restaurant, Event Venue
Group size this facility is able to accommodate:
Dinning room seats 50. Additional seating available with outdoor tent.
Type of cuisine:
Traditional Midwestern cuisine with an upscale flair
Number of private dining rooms available:
Number of guestrooms:
Recreational activities, beautiful scenery, lodging fee includes numerous extras
Are group rates/discounts available?
Is the facility disabled-accessible?
$250 per night (include a big country breakfast for two)